Four days after an exit poll suggested U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was likely to lose his re-election bid, the Republican incumbent has filed a lawsuit contesting the still-being-counted results. The lawsuit asks the court to throw out the rules governing the historic ranked choice voting election and instead declare him the winner. The challenge comes after an exit poll published by the Bangor Daily News indicated that although Poliquin leads in first choices, he is likely to lose the election to Democratic challenger Jared Golden after the ranked choice voting count.
The legal claims Poliquin’s case puts forward are weak. For example, the first claim argues that the United States Constitution requires the election be conducted by a plurality vote - a claim that would find the systems used in Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana unconstitutional since they all require runoffs if no candidate earns a majority vote. In fact, Mississippi uses ranked choice ballots for its military and overseas voters so that they can participate in runoff elections without needing to submit a second ballot. They specifically adopted that process to comply with federal law, since the use of ranked ballots for overseas voters has been approved by federal courts.
The complaint also claims that the fact that ranked choice voting lets voters vote honestly violates the right to vote, saying “The right to vote for a candidate of the voter’s own choice includes the right to vote strategically or tactically to advance a weaker candidate to a subsequent election or round of voting so that the voter’s actual preferred candidate will have a better chance of ultimately winning.” Such a claim deserves credit for its creativity, but we do not believe it will find favor with a federal judge.
Even if a court were inclined to side with Poliquin, it would struggle to identify a remedy. All four candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District campaigned in a ranked choice voting election, and the voters ranked their choices according to the rules in place. It would be unfair to everyone involved to declare Poliquin the victor based only on first choices.
Maine’s first use of ranked choice voting in a statewide general election is historic, and it is facing historic opposition. This is not the first time it has faced legal difficulty, nor the first criticism from Poliquin, who said he would not be ranking choices on his own ballot. But we are confident it will remain the law of Maine long after the 2018 election season has concluded.